Write once, risk many?

As an information management type who firmly believes in the management aspect, I have always been attracted to projects that emphasize consolidating and publishing data in the most efficient ways possible.  My mantra has been “write once, read many”; a simplistic way of putting the need to control a single master source that can be replicated as far and wide as needed.  The immediate benefit of course being that this gets everyone in an organization “on the same page”.

I have been involved in many business operations where individual persons and groups were allowed to control their own versions of master data and the results can be disastrous– large lots of the wrong product built and shipped is one frequent nightmare that comes to mind.

But simply coralling the data is not good enough, and may in fact cause a different sort of harm.  If false data winds up in the master repository then the system is now ensuring that more people suffer the same mistakes.  I have seen this in configuration management systems architectures that do not match the business process.  A single bad data element led to 80% of the defects I discovered in one situation.

It’s one thing to lament this problem in products, and quite another to see it cause harm to peopleAn Associated Press article today revealed how software problems are resulting in numerous medical dosing errors in US military veterans.  The cause is downplayed as “glitches” but in reality human error is to blame.  Humans design, deploy and manage these systems.  Data defects do not randomly manifest in them.

Sheer numbers of affected items (and people) in modern times have necessitated a systems approach to managing information.  The days of craftsmen or even country doctors who had the luxury of 1-to-1 relationships with their customers have vanished in the blur of population growth and urban sprawl.  But along with the need to implement databases and software to address these diverging ratios comes the important requirement that sanity checks be employed.  This can be automated to an extent but in the end it is a human auditor who must check the results.

I am sure most information managers are aware of the pitfalls covered here.  Ultimately, they need to make the case clear to executive management so that the necessary resources are allocated.  Scrapping products is one thing– treating human beings as commodities through lack of data oversight is inexcusable.

3 responses to “Write once, risk many?

  1. Thanks for sharing all of this stuff.

  2. Not a problem! More to come. 😉

  3. Pingback: Chewing and walking gum « Tabula Crypticum

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